Monday, September 26, 2011


Something is wrong with our dear Mojo.

A couple of months ago, he started peeing in places that were not his litterbox. There was a spot on the carpet, which we cleaned up, but then he started seeking out other things to pee on - plastic bags and canvas shopping bags being his two favorites. Maybe he's commenting on my sub-par housekeeping skills and peeing on things he wants me to put away?

The vet suspected a UTI and gave us a round of antibiotics and a cortisone shot - I'm still unclear on what the cortisone shot was for, but I wasn't at that vet visit so I only got the information secondhand. It helped a little, in that his pee stopped being dark and stinky, but he was still peeing on anything I left around too long. I have to be very careful with laundry, blankets, and shopping bags, and make sure they're stashed away quickly. Then we noticed that he was missing fur on his paws - I thought it was a toe tumor at first because this squishy pink blob was sticking out of his paw, but when I looked closer I saw it was just a naked toe. Naked cat toes look very out of place sticking out of a mound of white fluff. And there were also naked spots up his front legs like he'd been pulling all the fur out. His skin is so incredibly pink under that fluff!

Back to the vet, who gave us a second round of the same stuff. This time the cortisone shot was in case there was an allergy or skin irritation causing the hair loss. The fur is growing back but the pee issue isn't resolved. It's frustrating, because I feel like my house smells like a crazy cat lady house, even though we have only three cats and stay on top of the automatic litterbox so it's always very clean for them. He peed in the front closet and it seeped into the hardwood floor, and despite my attempts to clean it up using baking soda, oxyclean, vinegar, and Pine-Sol (all in different attempts), I feel like it attacks my nose as soon as I open the front door. Other people coming in have said they don't notice it, but I think they're just being nice.

It's possible that it's psychological - cats are prone to anxiety and the peeing and fur-eating might be a manifestation of stress - but in that case, I'm not sure what we'd do. Get him on anti-anxiety meds? Regular cat massages and spa days? We give him plenty of attention and love, and I can't figure out what we may have done to stress him out, because our normal life hasn't changed much recently. The vet said he'd explore a couple more physical possibilities first, like checking for bladder stones or tumors, and maybe some dental work because he noticed a decaying tooth, but it's possible Mojo is just stressed out. I hope it's not wrong that I'm hoping it's something physical (and minor!) that we can actually fix. I worry that the food we have him on isn't healthy enough for him and might be causing urinary issues, but he won't touch any other food at all. We've tried fancy expensive ones, canned ones, even tuna, and he doesn't seem to recognize it as edible.

His current run of antibiotics has a few more days to go, and if he's still having problems we'll have to bring him back in. Expect an update soon. If I forget, somebody post a comment asking me to get my act together and tell you more about Mojo, ok?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New pots!

I am proud to announce a new addition to my kitchen. I've been using a mixed set of middle-of-the-road nonstick cookware for as long as I've lived here. Some pieces were mine, some were Dave's, all were decent, but not great, and getting old. The nonstick coating was peeling off of some, and the rivets on the handles were getting loose enough to make the pots unstable. One of them started leaking through the loose rivet-holes recently, and I had to retire it.

When I was setting up a wedding registry, years ago (hey, I can say that because I've been married 1.5 years and set up the registry at least 6 months before the wedding, which makes two years, permitting the plural), I put on a set of nice, stainless cookware, to replace the old stuff. We got more than enough in gift cards for us to go out and buy them, but so many other things seemed more important at the time, and we decided to hold off on the new pots and pans. I don't regret it, because we definitely needed other things more, but I have been checking out sales now and then, hoping to treat myself a to new shiny set.

When I visited Montreal, I came back with a fabulous early birthday present from my mother, a Lagostina "commercial pro" stainless steel cookware set. It's not a brand I ever see around here but it's common in Canada. It's a fancy-pants expensive brand, usually, and the pots are so pretty. She got them at an awesome sale price, and I'm so happy to have them!

I haven't had a chance to use them yet but Mom has had the same set for a few months now and she loves it and says the pots heat evenly and well, and the shape is great for stirring and whisking. They look like they're very solidly built and I'm looking forward to trying them out.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Car trouble

On my way to work on Friday, I was distracted by a rattling sound coming from the passenger side of my car. Thinking it was probably one of the million assorted things crammed into my two glove compartments, I tried leaning over, popping the little doors open, and randomly shoving things around to stop the noise. Nothing helped, but the noise wasn't too loud and I figured I'd investigate over the weekend when I eventually got around to cleaning out my car.

Well, about ten minutes into my half-hour drive home at 11:30 at night, the rattle suddenly got much, much louder. It sounded like something broke off and was rattling around in the wheel or under my car. I had no idea what it could be, and even though I could still steer, brake, and drive properly through the sound, I decided to pull over and freak out and call my husband to rescue me. I drove at 25 miles an hour to the next exit with my hazard lights flashing and pulled off by a Safeway to wait. It only took him about 20 minutes to get to me, but it was a scary 20 minutes, because that area is really not a good place to be at night. I left the engine running because I wanted to be able to get out of there in a hurry - probably an overreaction, but when you have two cars pull up next to each other at the far side of the lot, windows down so they can talk and exchange things, it's not good.

Once he arrived, we checked out the wheel, and the junk under the hood, with a flashlight, but nothing seemed obviously wrong. We drove both cars home, very slowly, with him in my car listening for rattles and me in his car alongside, watching to see if anything looked strange while the car was moving. Nothing looked weird, but we got the car into a garage as soon as possible (which turned out to be Tuesday) anyway. It was an inconvenience to be down to one car, because he had to drive me to work, but unfortunately there's no reasonable public transit option around here, and nobody I work with lives near me to give me a lift, either.

Well, much to my delight, they did find something wrong. I would have been so mad to have them find nothing and make me feel like I was paranoid and hysterical. But no, I was right and something was wrong: in fact, the garage said that they had never ever seen this particular thing happen before. My tire was somehow unraveling from the inside edge and wrapping itself around my suspension. The tire was peeling like an orange in one long strip! So what I was hearing was the flapping of the free edge against the underside of the car, and the loud part was probably when the strip tore free from the tire. They excitedly brought the tire over to show me the damage. They weren't sure why it happened - it's possible that I drove over something that made a nick in the tire and weakened it, or maybe it was a defect in the tire.

So, I've got a couple of new tires and the repairs were done for a very reasonable price, meaning that we've found a good garage in the area for any future car troubles. I think the lesson here is to keep your car clean enough that you can recognize a funny sound faster and not assume it's a spoon in the glove compartment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Blood Donation

The hospital blood drive was Monday, and I decided to put my money where my mouth is and roll up my sleeve to donate a unit myself, instead of just recruiting others to do it. I had a bad experience at my last donation a year ago, and I was reluctant to try again, but I've been feeling like a hypocrite, thanking everyone for their donation while sitting at the juice counter with a magazine. It wasn't difficult at all and I feel much better about myself now that I've done it.

I'll describe the whole donation process for you, from sign-in to cookies, and maybe it will take some of the mystery out of it and encourage some people to try it for the first time.

Mr Bill, the Red Cross volunteer, checked me in at the front desk and gave me a big sticker with my name on it so everyone would know who I was and could call me Jen instead of "miss" or the dreaded "ma'am". I signed in at the computer (touch-screen, fancy!) and then I read a small booklet of information before going in to wait for my interview. The booklet contained some general guidelines about donation, so people who might not qualify could find out right away and not waste their time - there was a page about mad cow disease and the countries on the exclusion list, along with information about age, weight, and health requirements. There was a list of excluded medications, and a description of what would happen to your donation once it was taken. If you read all that and still feel like you're eligible and ready to donate, then you head to the waiting area.

I only waited a few minutes before a booth opened up, and a Red Cross employee called me over for the physical and interview. I handed over my ID and confirmed my name, address, and date of birth, and then she took my pulse and blood pressure. Once all that checked out, she measured my hemoglobin level with a little machine that looks like this and takes a drop of blood from a fingerstick. If you know anyone who checks their blood sugar for diabetes, it's almost exactly the same process, except it measures hemoglobin instead of glucose.

Fun fact: they're not measuring your iron level. Hemoglobin level is related to how much iron is in your blood, but taking an iron pill the day before a donation will not boost your hemoglobin level, because red cells take days to form, and they take up iron to make their hemoglobin early in that process. Hemoglobin is a protein packed into your red cells, and it contains iron and transports oxygen. In this context, it's a quick and dirty way to check how many red cells you have, to see if you've got enough to give.

My hemoglobin level was spectacular, so I was cleared to donate, assuming I passed the questionnaire portion of the interview. They no longer sit beside you and read you the questions - I guess maybe they found that people were more likely to lie if someone was right there. It's all done on computer now, with a series of yes/no questions about sexual activity, drug use, health, and travel. It's a smart system - if you say no to travel outside of the United states and Canada, it skips the questions about travel to the UK or Mexico or any other potentially problematic places. Having never traded money for sex or enjoyed a wild night of intravenous drug use, I passed with flying colors and was brought over to the donation chairs.

The phlebotomist (big word for the day, it means "health worker trained in drawing venous blood for testing or donation") handed me a little squeeze toy and then pumped up a blood pressure cuff on my arm to make a vein pop out. Once she found a vein she liked, she swabbed my arm with a squishy iodine swab for 30 seconds, told me to get ready, and then poked the needle in. It hurt a little, because, hey, it's a needle. But it wasn't too bad. She covered it with a little square of gauze so I couldn't see it, in case I was one of those fainters, and then she got to work on the blood unit.

As the blood came out of my vein, it went through some tubing into a small pouch, from which the phlebotomist took samples into a handful of tubes for testing. They need to check my blood type, obviously, but also check for all those communicable nasties like HIV, hepatitis, and West Nile Virus. After that, the blood zipped past the pouch into the big collection bag, which was hung from a hinged pole so that it would be obvious when it was full enough - the bag reached the target weight, the hinge dropped down, and one of the techs came to seal it up and unhook me. The actual bleeding part of the donation process lasted about 10 minutes.

Once the needle came out of my arm, I pressed a ball of gauze against the site for a full minute with my arm above my head, to be sure my platelets had time to do their thing and plug the hole from the inside. The tech wrapped a stretchy bandage around my arm and thanked me for my donation, and then I was free to raid the canteen. They have Keebler cookies now, which is awesome. I had some rainbow chocolate chip cookies and a can of orange juice, and then I was back out at the front desk helping Mr Bill with his computer and thanking everyone who came in to donate.

A day later, I'm feeling a little tired and worn out, but I'm not sure how much of that is from the blood loss and how much is due to working a 14-hour day, not getting enough sleep, and then getting up too early.

We got 29 units out of this drive, which isn't bad but I would really like to see us get above 30, especially considering we give out 500 units of blood to our patients in an average month. We actually had 39 people show up and try to donate, but 10 of them were deferred because of low hemoglobin levels, travel, or illness. I'm encouraged by the turnout and I'm looking forward to the next drive. Nine laboratory employees donated, which is a record and something to be proud of.

Go donate blood! If a wimp like me can do it, so can you!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Update on the tree in our yard

There's a monster pine still taking up the entire side yard and lounging comfortably against the house. 

Drooling tree service guys keep knocking at our door asking if they can chop it up for us, but we're waiting for the insurance company to send someone to deal with it. Unfortunately, they've been very busy settling much worse claims than ours, so we're not at the top of the priority list. Actually, it's nice that we're in good enough shape that we don't need to have things fixed immediately. It's a welcome change in our general luck, I think. 

It came down around 4:30am on the night of the storm, hitting the roof right beside the bedroom window and then sliding down the house and hitting the ground with a massive thud. I don't think I have ever been so scared in my life. It ripped me from my sleep and boosted my heart rate up to maximum in a split second as I reached over to find Dave in the dark. I couldn't turn the lights on to see what was happening, because the power had been out since midnight, and when I couldn't feel Dave in the bed beside me I was terrified and yelled for him as I scrambled to get out of bed and find my glasses (to see the dark better). He  had gotten up for a drink and heard the commotion from the kitchen, and came running to check on me.

He went out in the wind and rain with a small flashlight, to see the damage, while I sat inside and shook hard enough to rattle my teeth, because we were extremely lucky that it was a tall, thin pine, and that it hit at just enough of an angle to slide off the house. A bigger tree or a different angle, and that tree would have been on the bed. Thank God. Why didn't we think of the danger, and sleep in the living room? I was worried about the cars and asked if we should park them in the street before the storm hit, but it never entered my mind that a tree might hit the house. We slept restlessly for the rest of that night, on the futon in the living room, far from trees and danger.

In the light of the next day, we could see more clearly what had happened. The tree hit the house and dented the gutter by the bedroom window, broke, then scraped the roof and siding on its way down to the ground. No broken windows, no holes in the roof, and no major structural damage. We'll need siding and roof repair, and there will be some electrical work needed to reattach all the wires properly, but it could have been a lot worse. The tree clipped another pine on the way down, and tore off most of its branches, so we'll have to take that one down too. Anyone want a few hundred pounds of fresh pine mulch?

The tree also pulled down all the wires coming to the house, delaying BGE's restoration efforts. It took them until Wednesday to come to our house and put up yellow ribbons around the fallen lines, and our power wasn't back on until a full week after the storm. Neighbors were dropping by, some to check on us and make sure we were ok, and some to ask if the power was still out for the neighborhood because we hadn't gotten rid of our tree yet. Nice. Because, you know, I'm going to be out there with an axe all week. For the most part everyone was great, though. People were checking on each other, keeping everyone up to date with regular emails, and one neighbor with a generator offered us some freezer space so we didn't lose all our food. We're in a great spot.

This next picture blows my mind. The ground was so waterlogged and the wind so strong that the tree came right up by the roots. The pines in our yard aren't very deeply rooted to begin with, but can you imagine how windy it has to be to rip up a 50-foot pine like it's a weed? I'm also delighted that the rhododendron wasn't killed when the tree came up. Counting my blessings, here. 

So that's the tree story. I'm sorry that I have the story to tell at all, but it could have been a lot worse and I'm very grateful.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Well, I'm back.

It's been a long month. August, I have decided, is my least favorite month. It's too hot, for starters, and then this particular August went and kicked my ass. An earthquake, a hurricane, a friend fighting cancer, a cat peeing on everything, a switch to evening shift, two gradually deteriorating grandmothers, a tree on the house and no power for a week, and a goodbye to my dear Tio. Can I get a break, please?

I survived, which is pretty awesome, but I'm a little worn out. I know other people have it worse and I'm trying to maintain that perspective and not come across as a whiny brat, but it's not always easy. I'm trying to figure out how to make my life work now that I'm back on the evening shift. It makes it harder to stay in touch with everyone back home, because I can't call them at midnight. I'm not quite sure yet how the day-to-day routine will go, because this is the first week I'm doing this for real - first I had houseguests, then I worked a couple of early shifts, then the power went out and I was at my mother-in-law's every night after work so I could eat and shower. So, I guess the learning curve starts now.

Hopefully now that I'm climbing back out from under my dark little cloud, I can keep up with my posts here a little better. That's the plan, anyway. I probably won't bother reviewing any of the books I read over the past month, because just thinking about catching up is overwhelming. Maybe I'll make up a list and then if there's any interest I can expand on some of them.